Do pets replace children in child-free homes?

January 25, 2011 § 11 Comments

Thanks again, Freshly Pressed, for helping me out on another blog post. Man! This thing is like a gold mine! πŸ˜‰

(Maybe I should reconsider my tendency to poach other people’s ideas….nah.)

Today’s topic comes from a small remark made in the latest post on the featured blog, Snoring Dog Studio. The title: “The No Pets in Bed Study: Letting the Dogs In.” The subject matter: a newly published report that concludes we should not allow any furry critter on our bed because we might get the plague. Ahem. I’ll let Snoring Dog Studio speak for herself and give you the same rundown of the study that I got. As a critical thinker, I found her analysis of the study to be really spot-on–if we are going to run with the plague theory, then we can conclude that it’s because of fleas. But, as Snoring Dog Studio rightly points out, there are fleas living in many other places than on our animals’ backs. In fact, I remember once crossing the backyard to get into my apartment in the dead of summer, and I had no fewer than two fleas clinging to my t-shirt, hitching a ride into the fully air-conditioned sanctuary. I did have Callie at the time, but she is strictly indoors and had never had a flea on her body…until I brought them to her. (Who’s the animal here?) Sure, maybe if we live within close quarters of our animals, then we have an increased chance of encountering fleas, but that doesn’t just mean that we will absolutely get the plague because we’re letting the cat sleep on the bed.

Now, I do generally agree not to allow animals larger than a cat on the bed, simply because 1. cats are extremely difficult to convince not to take advantage of the warm body and covers (they’re sort of haughty that way) and 2. larger animals tend to take up a lot of room and might disrupt the general rest of human sleepers. Do I think that just because this is how I run my house that everyone should run their house this way? No. But if someone with a new labrador puppy asks me what I think, I’ll be happy to tell them the conclusion I’ve come to for my own home. To my knowledge, I have not yet encountered a dog that is more or less dependent or presumptive or badly behaved than another dog simply because of permitted sleeping arrangements. (As long as the dog respects commands from the owner, like “down” or “get off the bed,” then we have no problems. For instance, Annie is allowed on the couch, but Milton is not. Annie is also much smaller than Milton, and she also obeys the “off” command when we require her to get down. Neither dog is allowed on the bed because, as far as I care, it’s a safe haven for the cats to escape nosy canines.)

So what does any of this have to do with children and whatnot? I’m getting to it. Snoring Dog Studio points out a fairly horrifying claim made by one of the researchers of this study, which states: “In many countries, pets have become substitutes for childbearing and child care, sometimes leading to excessive pet care.”


This is not the first time I’ve encountered this outlandish claim. I have heard from people who have chosen to live child-free lives (not childless. Child-free…one is a choice, the other is a circumstance), that one of the common accusations they’ll hear (to my shock and horror) is that they must be projecting their maternal or paternal instincts onto the animals that live in their homes.

You know what strikes me as funny?

The people who call their pets “furry children” or refer to themselves as “cat mommies” or “dog dads” are, at least in my completely unscientific observations, the ones who actually want children. My child-free friends refer to their pets as pets. “This is my cat.” “That’s my dog.” In fact, I’ve even heard a child-free friend specifically say that she is not a mommy to her cat but that she is more like a really cool roommate who does all the cooking and cleaning, and occasionally gives cuddles (when the mood strikes the feline, of course). And, in fact, I think all cat owners should just stop kidding themselves right now if they think they’re in the authoritative/dominant position to their feline friend. Cats rule us, plain and simple. They’ve got us perfectly trained with masterful subtlety; we actually believe that we are acting on our own volition when we do things like pet them or feed them. But pay attention next time you do something for your cat that she cannot do for herself–she’s got you wrapped around her little claw.

Those of my friends who either are parents or who are actively attempting to become parents or who state that they will one day be parents–those are the ones who refer to themselves as the mommies or daddies of animals. Hell, take a good long look at the menu bar at the top of my blog. There’s an option to read up on “The Furry Children.” I’m sure most readers would understand that to mean “my pets,” but I’m purposefully calling them my “children.” I often wonder what will happen when I have children. Will my pets remain “furry children” or will they become “pets”? I’m fairly confident that they will remain “furry children,” especially if I look back on the way that my mom and dad have always referred to their pets, even after having us kids.

I’m not interested in making judgment calls on the people who do or do not refer to their animals as children. Rather, I’d like to call attention to the possibility that the people who are actively pursuing their maternal or paternal feelings are the people who are more likely to sort of always already call themselves parents than those who don’t see themselves as parents. And I think it is probably the assumption of the hegemonic bunch of breeders who believe that everyone feels the way they do and thinks the way they do and therefore must also have the same quirks as they have.

Worse, still, than equating one life choice to another life choice, Dr. Bruno Chomel, one of the researchers in the study and the perpetrator of the above quote, makes this stunning logical leap: because people are trying to fill a child-sized void by allowing their pets to sleep in bed with them, they are also likely to participate in excessive pet care. Well, friends, I understand “excessive pet care” to mean “hoarding.” I’ll play devil’s advocate here and concede that maybe Chomel wasn’t referring to the kinds of excessive pet care that would constitute hoarding, fine. But what does drive me up the wall about this conclusion is the suggestion that because these people do not have children, then they must have a mental illness that would lead them to replace people with animals and to replace them excessively.

Let me offer this: from what I recall in my algebra classes and chemistry classes, when you balance equations then the values on either side of the equal sign must be the same.

Okay, so the claim is that in the minds of child-free people: pets = children.

Can we then conclude that in the minds of parents: children = pets?

Something seems wrong. Like…mental-illness-y wrong.

Saying that children are a replacement for a void left in a pet-free home would probably border on the socially criminal. Who would have the gall to suggest that a person with more than one child must be having those children (and possibly excessively) because they are seeking to replace pet care with child care? That makes absolutely no sense.

I conclude that just as replacing pets with children is logically jarring, so is the claim that people replace children with pets.

Humans β‰  Animals
Children β‰  Pets
Parents β‰  Hoarders of children
Child-free Human Adults β‰  Hoarders of pets

Might there be a case made against generally referring to oneself as a pet parent? Absolutely. But it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not someone has, does not have, chooses to have, or chooses not to have children. Period.

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§ 11 Responses to Do pets replace children in child-free homes?

  • Robert says:

    “Hegemonic Bunch of Breeders” sounds like a great Prog-Rock band name. Maybe with a tinge of scrEaMO to it.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Lmao, oh lord. I actually love that for a band name. Think we could create a Prog-Rock, scrEaMO band that featured a tuba and violin? I think it can be done.

  • Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Wonderful post! And thank you so much for the link! You’ve offered a thoughtful response to what I think might have been an overzealous bit of research and conclusion-making. There are dangers in that, too!

  • Tori Nelson says:

    Hahaha! Robert’s comment is hilarious.
    I think if people really really really were dying to have a kid, they’d probably look into adoption, foster care, or other options before making the illogical leap to hoarding pets. I dare say that published report is the silliest thing I’ve read in a long, long while!

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Lol, didn’t I marry the funniest guy? πŸ˜‰

      That’s a really great point, too. There are many options in order to bring a human child (legally) into one’s home before delving into pet hoarding!

  • Shelby says:

    We refer to our dogs as our “kids,” but we are child-free and plan to stay that way πŸ™‚ It is my understanding that people who put all of their maternal or paternal instincts into their animals are the ones who claim their children really ARE their children (versus just stating such in passing) and are also the same pet owners who let their “precious little Fluffy” bite people, jump on people, be nasty to people because “precious little Fluffy” is just “too cute” to train. “Precious little Fluffy” is seen as the Princess (or Queen) of the household and end up as spoiled, ill-temperament little beasts.

  • As a childfree author who has interviewed hundreds of childfree– the answer to whether childfree people’s pets are their kids is — sometimes yes, mostly, no!
    check it out
    ~Laura, La Vie Childfree

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Thanks for sharing your link! That was really interesting. So maybe the conclusion to be drawn here is that some people call their pets their furry children and some people don’t. Human children really have absolutely nothing to do with it, lol.

  • My feline roommate would like to say that I am her child. Not the other way around. And she adamantly disagrees with those researchers you mentioned. Because they’re human, and so obviously and naturally flawed. That is all. πŸ˜‰

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Lmao! That cracks me up–your feline roommate makes a very good point. Human researchers are naturally flawed and immediately incorrect, particularly when it comes to the study of the feline. (Maybe they’re spot-on when it comes to their conclusions about canines? Has your feline roommate got an opinion on that? ;))

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